"Food in the 21st Century:
From Science to Sustainable Agriculture"
Vernon W. Ruttan and Yojiro Hayomi
Number 10, Volume 42, Page 25
Can agricultural growth be sustained? More specifically, have the efforts
of the last several decades to put in place a global agricultural research
system established the research capacity that will enable the farmers of
the developing world to meet future demands?
This report, which summarizes and interprets the research policy
recommendations made by the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Third System Review Panel, attempts
to respond to these questions. 
Mahendra M. Shah served as executive secretary of the review panel,
with Maurice F. Strong as chair. The panel addressed issues that
the system of international agricultural research centers,
organized under CGIAR, will face as it attempts to respond to the
food security, resource management, and poverty reduction challenges
of the first several decades of the 21st century.
The report also attempts to fill a broader public information
function by highlighting the unique role and accomplishments of the
CGIAR system. It addresses the resources that will need
mobilization if the international systems, together with the
National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) in the developing
world, are to meet the challenges. The report is well written.
The figures, tables, and boxes accompanying the text are
Inventing the CGIAR System
CGIAR's vision of a global agricultural research system emerged in
the early 1960s as a result of growing concern about a potential
world food crisis generated by rapid population growth. Freedom
from want had been part of the vision of the architects of new
post-World War II international institutions. In the immediate
post-war years, much of the institutional responsibility for meeting
world food needs fell on the United Nations Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO). But John Boyd Orr, the first director general
of FAO, burdened by the memory of the agricultural surpluses of the
1930s, was highly critical of the view that knowledge and technology
represented a serious constraint on agricultural production capacity.
In the first two decades after World War II, assistance for agriculture
was conducted largely in a technology transfer and community
The inadequacy of these policies led to a reexamination of
assumptions about the availability of a body of agricultural
technology that could be readily exported from countries that had
achieved high levels of agricultural productivity to low
productivity countries and regions. The result was the emergence of
a new perspective: Agricultural technology, particularly yield-
-enhancing biological technology, is highly location specific.
Evidence also accumulated to the effect that only limited
productivity gains could be achieved by the reallocation-- or the
more effective use-of the resources available to peasant producers
in poor countries.
A new view also emerged on the role of peasant producers in
agricultural development. In early post-war development literature,
peasant producers were viewed as obstacles, "bound by custom and
" to agricultural development. In an iconoclastic work published
in 1964, Theodore W. Schultz, who subsequently received a Nobel
Prize for his work on agricultural development, advanced a "poor
but efficient" view of peasant producers.  He viewed them as
making efficient use of the resources at hand but living in societies
in which productivity enhancing high-payoff inputs had not been made
available to them. Schultz insisted that the principal source of growth
in agricultural production in modern agriculture was reproducible resources.
Although the services of nature, particularly land and water, would be essential
for sustaining agricultural production, the sources of growth would be based
on new knowledge and new technology.
These insights, gained from experience and analysis, shaped the
response of the international community to the food crises of the
1960s and the 1970s. In 1969, the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations,
the World Bank, FAO, the United Nations Development
Programme (UNDP), and a number of economic assistance agencies in
developing countries held consultations that led to the creation of
The four international agricultural research centers already
established by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations--the
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines,
the International Center for the Improvement of Maize and
Wheat (CIMMYT) in Mexico, the International Center for Tropical
Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia, and the International Institute of
Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria--were brought into CGIAR as
the first research units in the new system. 
During the next two decades, new centers were established to
conduct research on additional commodities (potatoes, cassava,
bananas, plantain, livestock, and livestock disease);
resources (soils, water, forest, marine, and genetic); and on
agricultural, food, and research policies (see Figure 1 on this
page). The establishment of the newer centers reflected a
shift from an almost exclusive focus on the enhancement of crop
and animal productivity to a broader research program that
included the resource and environmental bases on which agricultural production rests. By the late 1990s, approximately
30 percent of the research budget of CGIAR centers was directed
to areas of environmental protection and biodiversity
There is now a large body of research indicating exceptionally high
social rates of return to agricultural research in developing
countries.  The studies suggest average rates of return upward
of 40 percent for a wide range of commodities. The report by Shah
and Strong makes brief references to the specific impacts of CGIAR
research (p. 27-32). Because of the close articulation between
research at CGIAR centers and NARS, it is not easy to isolate
their separate contributions.
There can be no question, however, about the importance of the
contributions of CGIAR research to the growth of production of the
most important food commodities in developing countries. For
example, a study conducted in the early 1990s indicated that wheat
varieties developed through the CIMMYT-NARS collaborative research
network accounted for more than 40 percent of the 13,000 wheat
varieties released in developing countries between 1966 and 1990.
In addition, varieties developed by using CIMMYT-NARS germplasm
as parents in NARS adaptive research accounted for about 25
percent of all varieties released in developing countries. Thus,
about two-thirds of all wheat varieties in developing counties from
1966 to 1990 were directly or indirectly based on germplasm
developed by the CIMMYT-NARS network. In addition, varieties
containing CYMMT-based genetic material had a significant yield
advantage relative to varieties containing only locally based
genetic material.  Studies of other major commodities, such
as rice, maize, and potatoes, indicate comparable results.
The contribution of CGIAR to strengthening national agricultural
research systems in developing countries has received much less
attention than the direct impact of center research on production.
CGIAR centers serve as nodes for a global system for the exchange
of scientific and technical information and genetic material.
There is a continuous exchange of scientific, technical, and
administrative staff among the several institutes and between
the CGIAR system and agricultural research systems in both
developed and developing countries. The world's largest
collection of genetic resources for the major crop plants are
now located at CGLAR centers. The mission of the International
Plant Genetic Resources Institute is to strengthen international
collaboration in the conservation and use of plant genetic
resources and to disseminate knowledge and technologies relevant
to improved conservation and use of plant genetic resources.
A continuing concern that has never been fully resolved is the
relationship between increased agricultural production and the
broader problems of rural poverty. A benefit that has frequently
been overlooked is the impact of CGIAR-NARS research on the urban
poor. In developing countries, the very poor frequently spend more
than half of any incremental income on basic food commodities.
Without the increase in the production of basic food commodities
resulting from CGIAR research, basic food prices in many of the
poorest countries would be substantially higher.  However,
agricultural research has been a blunt instrument with which
to address the problems of resource-poor families in rural
The member institutes and centers of the CGIAR system also deserve
a number of criticisms. They have often been tempted to announce
premature "breakthroughs of the year." An example was the premature
announcement by JIRI in 1993 of a new rice biotype that would
result in dramatically higher yields.
Numerous other examples could be cited. The temptation for premature
publicity about potential breakthroughs is often driven by national
donor agency pressures to demonstrate to their constituencies the
importance of their support for the CGIAR research effort.
A second, valid criticism is that institute directors and scientists
have, at times, acted as if they were competitors rather than
collaborators with NARS, thereby giving inadequate recognition to
the work of national scientists.
A New Mission
What about the future? Will the CGIAR system be as effective in
meeting the challenge of the next several decades as it has been
in the past? What are those challenges? Gordon Conway, president
of the Rockefeller Foundation, has called for a "doubly green
revolution" that will contribute effectively to poverty reduction
by enhancing food production.  The environmental community
has called repeatedly for a stronger ecological approach in the
CGIAR research agenda.
The intensification of agricultural production associated with the
adoption of larger yielding crop varieties has generated a number
of environmental concerns. Some of these concerns are related to
the expansion of irrigated areas on which many of the higher
yielding crops grow. Irrigation systems are often poorly designed,
managed, and maintained. Overexploitation of groundwater in such
areas as northwestern India and north China results in falling
groundwater levels. Expansion of gravity irrigation systems in
areas, such as the Indus River basin in south-central Asia,
results in salinization. Intensive use of fertilizer and pesticides
have resulted in soil degradation and water pollution. There have
also been negative impacts on fish culture, livestock, and human
health in some areas.
These problems are receiving increasing
attention at the CGIAR centers. Recognition of problems associated
with intensification of crop production has resulted in a
substantial broadening of the research agenda at CGIAR centers.
By the late 1990s, research directly related to productivity
enhancement had fallen to less than 40 percent of center
The review panel recommended a new mission statement, which CGIAR
has adopted, "to contribute to food security and poverty eradication
in developing countries through research, partnership, capacity
building, and policy support promoting sustainable agricultural
development based on environmentally sound management of natural
resources" (p. 330). It insisted that the specific commodity
approach taken by many of CGIAR centers would not be sufficient
to meet the demands of population and income growth and to protect
and enhance the agricultural resource base. The panel proposed
"a far more holistic approach to the interlinked problems,
with sustainable agriculture providing the common thread (p. 33).
In its deliberations, the panel found it necessary to struggle with
a number of difficult issues. One of the most fundamental was the
resource constraints under which the system has been forced to work.
Since the early 1990s, when several new natural resource-oriented
institutes were added to the system, CGIAR experienced increasing
financial stress (see Figure 1). Financial support declined
continuously throughout most of the 1990s. Since the end of the
Cold War, contributions by the United States have fallen from
a commitment of 25 percent of CGIAR's budget to less than 15
percent. The decline in U.S. support has made it easier for
other developed countries to reduce their support. In Germany,
a green movement, critical of modern biological and chemical
technology in agriculture, made it easy for a government
burdened with the heavy resource demands associated with
reunification to reduce its commitment to the support of
international agricultural research. Among the developed
countries, only Japan, Denmark, and a few others increased
their support for CGIAR during the 1990s. Without enhanced
support from the World Bank, CGIAR's financial crisis would
have been even deeper.
A second issue that the panel struggled with was the role that
biotechnology should play in center research programs. The green
revolution technology, based on the application of the older
Mendelian genetics, had not escaped controversy. Some critics
labeled it a western technology inappropriately imposed on
nonwestern societies. It was criticized for contributing to
loss of genetic diversity and for a bias against the poor. 
The panel attempted to tread cautiously among embracing the
potential of the new biotechnology to release biological
constraints on crop and animal productivity, concern about
possible health and environmental impacts, and the inadequate
regulatory regimes to monitor release of new biotechnology
products for commercial use. That these deliberations were
under way during an escalating "food fight" between the
United States and several European Community member countries
contributed to the caution with which the review panel
approached the issue of biotechnology." 
A third, closely related issue that confronted the panel was
the issue of intellectual property rights of the technology
developed at CGIAR centers. The urgency of intellectual property
rights arises from the much larger role that private sector
research and development is playing in the development of new
agricultural biotechnologies than in older Mendelian based
biological technology, particularly in developed countries
and in some of the larger and more advanced developing
countries. One of the concerns addressed by the critics is
farmer access and ability to pay. "Those who oppose protection
argue that the protection shifts control of resources from
farmers and local communities to large corporations. It also tends
to skew the research agenda to favor industrial
agriculture, bypassing the community and diversity-based
agriculture that, over the generations, has fostered and
maintained genetic diversity" (p. 46).
A related concern is the excessively broad intellectual
property rights granted by the U.S. national patent office
on genetic material.  The panel had to confront the issue
that failure to establish intellectual property rights on the
product of its research could mean that it would lose control
of its own research results. It will not be able to give away
what it does not own. The panel "urged CGIAR to create a
legal entity to hold and manage the international patent
rights on behalf of the centers" (p. 47). The use of the new
technology would be allowed under a licensing arrangement
that would ensure that technology developed by CGIAR centers
would be freely available. Several European donors to the
system opposed this recommendation. The governing body of
the CGIAR system has not yet acted on the recommendation,
in spite of its urgency.
Another issue, which the review panel failed to confront,
is the governance and structure of the CGIAR system. It is
generally acknowledged, even by its strongest supporters,
that the system has great difficulty arriving at and
implementing strategic decisions. The independent corporate
identity of the constituent institutes has the great strength
that research priority decisions can be made at the level at
which the science is actually done, and by those with the
imagination and capacity to know what is feasible. This
independence has been eroded as the core budgets of the
centers have declined relative to external project funding
by donors. As the system has grown, the Technical Advisory
Committee has found it increasingly difficult to advise the
governing body on scientific and organizational issues.
CGIAR has found it difficult to reallocate resources from
an unproductive to a more productive research objective and
almost impossible to reorganize or close the several centers
that have been unproductive or whose missions are no longer
relevant. If the CGIAR system is to meet the challenges
outlined in the third system review or in the report by
Shah and Strong, it will need to address the issue of its
own governance and advisory structure with greater
determination than it has demonstrated in the past.
A Second Green Revolution?
The developed country donors to the CGIAR system have become too
complacent about its capacity to meet the demands placed on the
world's farmers to meet the food demands arising out of
population and income growth and to navigate the transition to
a sustainable system of agricultural production over the next
half century. 
The accomplishments of the past half-century are impressive.
World population rose from 2.5 billion in1950 to 6.0 billion in
2000. In spite of rapid population growth, global average
per-capita food availability rose from less than 2,400 calories
to more than 2,700. Food grains have become available on
increasingly favorable terms to consumers in developed and
developing countries. Population growth will likely add in the
neighborhood of 3.0 billion people to world population by 2050.
Income growth in poor countries will also add substantially to
food demand. 
In the early 1960s, it was not difficult to anticipate the sources
of the increase in agricultural production during the next several
decades. Advances in crop production would come from expansion in
irrigated areas, from more intensive application of fertilizer and
crop protection chemicals, and from the development of crop
varieties more responsive to fertilizer and management. Advances
in animal production would come from genetic improvements and
advances in animal nutrition and animal health. At a more
fundamental level, increases in grain yields would occur from
changes in plant architecture that make possible higher plant
populations per hectare and by increasing the ratio of grain
to total dry matter.
Increases in production of animals and animal products would come
about by decreasing the proportion of feed devoted to animal
maintenance and by increasing the proportion used to produce
useable animal products.
Today, it is much more difficult to tell
a convincing story about the sources of increase in crop and
animal production over the next half century.  Neither
expansion of cultivated areas nor increases in irrigated areas will contribute substantially to agricultural production
in the future. There are severe physiological constraints to
increasing the grain-to-dry-matter ratio or to reducing the
percentage of animal feed devoted to animal maintenance.
Constraints are already evident in terms of a reduction in
the incremental yield increase from fertilizer application.
There are also preliminary indications of a decline in
agricultural research productivity--measured in terms of
the number of scientist research years to achieve incremental
gains in crop and animal productivity.
It is possible, within another decade, that advances in molecular
biology and genetic engineering will reverse the urgency of the
above concerns. However, the products of genetic engineering now
on the market, primarily plant protection and animal health
products, are not contributing to raising yield ceilings above
the levels achieved with the older Mendelian technologies. The
institutional constraints associated with the development of
intellectual property rights and the regulatory regimes for
monitoring health and environmental impacts add further
uncertainty. The economic incentives that induce private sector
research are directing efforts toward higher value-added
products, which include functional foods, neutraceuticals,
and pharmaceuticals, instead of yield enhancement.
If the CGIAR system had not already been invented, it would be
necessary to do so. The challenge of the future will be to make
it a truly global system, to reform its governance and management,
and to provide the substantial new resources necessary if the
world's farmers are to meet the demands that their societies will
place on them. International assistance agencies and national
governments need to direct renewed attention to reversing the
recent decline in donor support for agricultural development and
to strengthening the national agricultural research systems in
the poor countries of the world.
There are other issues that will be impossible to resolve within
the CGIAR system of agricultural research centers. Agricultural
productivity growth will remain a blunt instrument in attempts
to resolve the deeper problems of urban and rural poverty. The
centers, in cooperation with national agricultural research
programs, can be expected to play a modest role in addressing
the environmental issues directly associated with agricultural
production and nitrous oxide and methane emissions, for
example. But the broader issues of poverty reduction and
environmental protection must be addressed by policies and
programs designed to specifically confront these issues. A
major tragedy is that the international community has not
yet put in place an environmental research system designed
to provide the knowledge and technology needed to address
environmental issues at the enterprise and community levels
in developing countries.
Vernon W. Ruttan is Regents Professor emeritus in the Department
of Applied Economies and the Department of Economics at the
University of Minnesota. He concentrates on agricultural
economics and development economics.
He is the author, with Yojiro Hayomi, of Agricultural Development: An International
Perspective (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985)
and of Technology, Growth, and Development (Cambridge, Mass.:
Oxford University Press, 2001).
Ruttan is indebted to Dana Dalrymple and Per Pinstrup-Andersen for comments on an earlier
(1.) M. Shah and M. Strong, Food in the 21st Century: From Science
to Sustainable Agriculture (Washington, D.C., The International
Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2000).
Earlier reviews of the CGIAR system were conducted in the
mid-1970s and in the mid-1980s. For an appraisal of the earlier
CGIAR reviews and of the CGIAR review process, see K. Fuglie
and V. W. Ruttan, "Value of External Reviews of Research at
the International Agricultural Research Centers," Agricultural
Economics 3 (1989): 365-80.
(2.) Y. Hayami and V. W. Ruttan, Agricultural Development: An
International Perspective (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1985), 56-9, 256-60. 403-405.
(3.) T. W. Schultz, Transforming Traditional Agriculture
(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, t964). Schultz
was a recipient of a 1979 Nobel Price in economics.
(4.) For a more complete history of the CGIAR system, see W. Baum,
Partners Against Hunger: The Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1986).
(5.) See, for example, J. Anderson and D. Dalrymple, the World
Bank, The Grant Program and the CGIAR: A Retrospective Review
(Washington, D.C.: World Bank QED, Working Paper Series No. 1,
March 1999); R. Evenson, Economic Impact Studies of Agricultural
Research and Extension (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University
Economic Growth Center, 1999 mimeo); and J. Alston and P. Pardey,
International Approaches to Agricultural R&D: The CGIAR
(Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute,
(6.) D. Byerlee and P. Moya, Impacts of International Wheat
Breeding Research in the Developing World, 1966-90 (Mexico, DF:
CIMMYT, 1993); and D. Byerlee and G. Traxler, "National and
International Wheat Improvement Research in the Post Green
Revolution Period: Evolution and Impacts," American Journal
of Agricultural Economics 77 (May 1995): 268-78.
(7.) Anderson and Dalrymple, note 5 above.
(8.) G. Conway, The Doubly Green Revolution: Food for All in the
Twenty-First Century (London, U.K.: Penguin Books, 1997; Ithaca,
N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1999); and G. Conway, "Food for All
in the 21st Century," Environment, January/February 2000, 8-18.
(9.) R. Barker and D. Dawe, The Asian Rice Economy in Transition
(Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute, 5
May 2000 (mimeo)).
(10.) For a review and rebuttal of the early criticisms, see Y.
Hayami and V. W. Ruttan, Agricultural Development: An International
Perspective (Baltimore, Md.: The Johns Hopkins University Press,
1985), 329-45. Michael Lipton, an early critic of the green
revolution, has written that "If social scientists had in 1950
designed a blueprint for pro-poor agricultural innovation, they
would have wanted something like the modern varieties: labor-
intensive, risk reducing, and productive of cheaper, coarser
varieties of food staples." M. Lipton and R. Longhurst New Seeds
and Poor People (London, U.K.: Unwin Hyman. 1989), 400.
(11.) See, for example, R. Paarlberg, "The Global Food Fight;
" Foreign Affairs 79 (May/June 2000): 24-38; and C. F. Runge and
B. Senauer, 'A Removable Feast;' Foreign Affairs 79 (May/June
(12.) J. Barton, "Patents and Antitrust: A Rethinking in Light of
Patent Breadth and Sequential Innovation, "Antitrust Law Journal
65 (1997): 449-96; and J. Barton, "The Impact of Contemporary
Patent Law on Biotechnology Research." in Global Genetic
Resources: Access and Prospect Rights, S. Eberhart, ed.
(Madison, Wisc.: Crop Science Society of America, 1998), 85-97.
(13.) This section draws on an earlier article, V. W. Ruttan,
"The Transition to Agricultural Sustainability," Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences 96 (May 1999): 5,960-67.
(14.) For the impact of population and income growth on food demand
in India, see G. S. Bhalla, P. Hazel, and J. Kerr, Prospects for
India's Cereal Supply and Demand to 2020 (Washington, D.C.:
International Food Policy Research Institute, 1999).
(15.) P. L. Pingali, M. Hossain, and R. V. Gerpacio, Asian Rice
Bowls: The Returning Crisis? Wallingford, Conn.: CAB International.
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